NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) 20050203858: Large Liquid Rocket Testing: Strategies and Challenges
Publication date 2005-01-01
Topics NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS), ENGINE TESTS, PROPULSION SYSTEM PERFORMANCE, LIQUID PROPELLANT ROCKET ENGINES, THRUST CHAMBERS, PERFORMANCE TESTS, RELIABILITY, SPACE TRANSPORTATION, Rahman, Shamim A., Hebert, Bartt J.,
Rocket propulsion development is enabled by rigorous ground testing in order to mitigate the propulsion systems risks that are inherent in space flight. This is true for virtually all propulsive devices of a space vehicle including liquid and solid rocket propulsion, chemical and non-chemical propulsion, boost stage and in-space propulsion and so forth. In particular, large liquid rocket propulsion development and testing over the past five decades of human and robotic space flight has involved a combination of component-level testing and engine-level testing to first demonstrate that the propulsion devices were designed to meet the specified requirements for the Earth to Orbit launchers that they powered. This was followed by a vigorous test campaign to demonstrate the designed propulsion articles over the required operational envelope, and over robust margins, such that a sufficiently reliable propulsion system is delivered prior to first flight. It is possible that hundreds of tests, and on the order of a hundred thousand test seconds, are needed to achieve a high-reliability, flight-ready, liquid rocket engine system. This paper overviews aspects of earlier and recent experience of liquid rocket propulsion testing at NASA Stennis Space Center, where full scale flight engines and flight stages, as well as a significant amount of development testing has taken place in the past decade. The liquid rocket testing experience discussed includes testing of engine components (gas generators, preburners, thrust chambers, pumps, powerheads), as well as engine systems and complete stages. The number of tests, accumulated test seconds, and years of test stand occupancy needed to meet varying test objectives, will be selectively discussed and compared for the wide variety of ground test work that has been conducted at Stennis for subscale and full scale liquid rocket devices. Since rocket propulsion is a crucial long-lead element of any space system acquisition or development, the appropriate plan and strategy must be put in place at the outset of the development effort. A deferment of this test planning, or inattention to strategy, will compromise the ability of the development program to achieve its systems reliability requirements and/or its development milestones. It is important for the government leadership and support team, as well as the vehicle and propulsion development team, to give early consideration to this aspect of space propulsion and space transportation work.
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